Why People Are So Frustrated with the World's 50 Best Restaurants List
At the ceremony, announcer Mark Durden-Smith said, "It’s all about girl power tonight.” This simply was not true.
It should come as no surprise that the most prestigious global restaurant award ceremony is also the most contentious. Since 2002, the World's 50 Best organization has announced the 50 best restaurants in the world, as decided by a panel of 1000 global members. Despite its own claims to "reflect the diversity of the culinary landscape," the organization has historically neglected to recognize the accomplishments of female chefs and those of color, an injustice made more glaring by the existence of a separate Best Female Chef award, as though women chefs could not possibly compete with their male counterparents, as though they are not simply "chefs," plain and simple.
Indeed, women are rare sightings on the World's 50 Best list. This year, there were only five women chefs (and co-chefs) who had restaurants represented on the list: Pia León (at Central with Virgilio Martínez), Elena Arzak (at Arzak with Juan Mari Arzak), Ana Ros (at Hiša Franko), Daniela Soto-Innes (at Cosme with Enrique Olvera), and Pim Techamuanvivit (at Nahm.) Three of those women have male co-chefs.
Last year, the number of women who made the list was a shocking three; this is likely why announcer Mark Durden-Smith exclaimed, "It’s all about girl power tonight," at the beginning of the June 19 ceremony in Bilboa, Spain.
This is not great.
The only moment that was about "girl power"—which, by the way, horribly tone deaf—was Clare Smyth's pointed acceptance speech. Smyth had been awarded the controversial "Best Female Chef" title, and, despite her trepidations with that category's existence, she took an opportunity to speak out about the lack of representation in the industry. (No other chef who accepted an award used their platform to address the evening's glaring lack of diversity in a meaningful way. Massimo Bottura, who took home the top prize for Osteria Francescana, only offered an unspecific call to action, "We can have a very loud voice of change if we stay together. We are all part of the same revolution.")
"For the last 10 years of my career, I've been asked, 'What is it like to be a female chef?' To which I reply: I'm not sure what you mean, because I've never been a male chef," said Smyth, who is chef at London's Core, which was mystifying absent from the main list. Smyth went on to emphasize the importance of cultivating better kitchen cultures so chefs of all backgrounds can thrive and rise to top positions.
"We must make it a more pleasant working environment; we must make a conscious effort to remove gender barriers," she continued. "You can't put all women in a box or under the same label. Everybody is different; each person has their own story. But we must listen to each other and support each other."
Dominique Crenn's Atelier Crenn was notably absent from this year's list, too, and it's hard not to wonder whether Crenn's outspoken disdain for the World's 50 Best organization had anything to do with that, as many felt the San Francisco restaurant deserved recognition. (The two-Michelin-starred chef was named "Best Female Chef" in 2016, and Atelier Crenn appeared at #83 in 2017. It vanished this year.)
The morning of the ceremony, Crenn posted a quote from Nina Shaw on Instagram that seemed to take aim at World's 50 Best for marginalizing women: "I don't need you to include me from what you excluded me from. We are not diversity we are normal. I want you to normalize your side til it looks like our side and recognize we should have been there all along.”
And it's not only women who've been boxed out of the recognition. This year, only one restaurant from the entire continent of Africa appeared on the list, with The Test Kitchen in Cape Town, South Africa landing the 50th spot. Twenty-six restaurants on the top 50—so more than half—are located in Europe.
As these lists continue to hold weight (and tangibly affect power dynamics in the industry), the food must continue to demand better.